"It shall not be so among you..."

One thing that I'm sure will be a challenge moving into a Catholic Worker house is the use of authority. As a full-time volunteer, I'll be expected to be "in charge" of the house at times, and I know the visitors there will automatically make assumptions about me as an authority figure. So I'll have to be very intentional about how I respond to that.

Yesterday, reading in Mark, I came across this favorite passage:

Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you..." (Mk 10.42-43)
And I was reminded about how my convictions against human authority (authority enforced through the use of political and economic power) have become even stronger during the years I have been here at Reba Place.

Some of that has come through negative experiences of others using power here, but most is from learning their history. There's a discussion group right now that's studying Glimpses of Glory, by Dave and Neta Jackson. It's about Reba's history, and a main theme is the dangers of authority in a growing community, based on the community's own failings and abuses. Though Reba Place Fellowship initially tried to avoid the centralization of power and heavy authority structures, as they grew and attempted to be more effective in ministry abuses of power appeared over time.

And they were also helped along the wrong path by others. For example, a very successful community leader from another state began having considerable influence in teaching here, and part of his message emphasized "strong leadership." He even chastised some for not being authoritative enough:
One of the greatest faults in many communities is that people who obviously have a position of authority refuse to take it because they are afraid that they are going to manipulate their brothers and sisters. And that, I think, is a cop-out from your calling.

Reba followed his leading. But within six years there were serious authority problems both at Reba Place and at the community that this teacher came from. And years later it also came out that this teacher was by that time involved in an adulterous relationship with another man in his community (under his leadership), and that he had affairs with several other men, some of whom he had been counseling. When confronted, he confessed and repented of this terrible "abuse of power and trust." Reba Place also went through a painful time of repentence and lost the majority of their members in the disillusionment that followed.

The sadness of this story has really deepened my focus and commitment to follow Jesus' words (and example): "It shall not be so among you." I know there will be pressure both from housemates and from guests that will push me towards "responsibility" and an authoritative role. But I must use this situation as an opportunity to clearly and firmly refuse such a role, to try to live differently as Jesus did, and try to help others lay down their power as well.